Cynthia Ozick has been described as one of America's best writers, one of its leading women of letters, the Athena of its literary pantheon. She has won prestigious awards by the armful: she was recently nominated for the first International Man Booker Prize for career achievement, alongside Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Gabriel García Márquez, Margaret Atwood et al. Consequently, it is sometimes seen as surprising that she is so little read in Britain. Her formidable essays have been published and admired here; but, of her nine works of fiction, only The Bear Boy - published in America as Heir to the Glimmering World - is currently in print. There is, emphatically, no great mystery about this: I would bet good money that she has not been much read in America either, outside the band of academics often described as 'the Ozick industry'. Ozick has a high Modernist disdain for anything that is easy or easily consumed; she is the implacable enemy of what she sees as 'the cry of the common culture', 'in every instance a pusher of Now, a shaker-off of whatever requires study or patience, or what used to be called, without prejudice, ambition'. There is a lot to be said for her uncompromising and eccentric fiction. But - with the exception of The Bear Boy, something of a departure - it certainly requires study, patience and ambition.
LRB 19 May 2005 | PDF Download